Guest post by Monika Kanokova, freelance community strategist and author.
Eight things a solopreneur can do to build a stable creative business with multiple income streams.
It was the last day of February. Simultaneously, it was the third month of my existence as a freelancer, and the first month that went by without sending out a single invoice. A horrifying experience. I kept wondering, “Is this what freelancing feels like? Is freelancing really such a roller coaster everyone warned me about?” Of course, I didn’t spend the month with my hands neatly folded in my lap. I was out and about networking and I even applied for some gigs on various online platforms. I was doing exactly what I was told to do, but it didn’t seem to be working for me.
Now, what do you do in such a situation? Do you start looking for a full-time job? Do you ask at the local café if they needed additional waiting staff? Ridiculous! There had to be other options! We live in the age of the internet and I clearly wasn’t ready to start cold calling strangers to convince them to become my clients.
It was time to investigate different, better options. I wanted to know what possibilities creatives, such as myself, had that could help stabilize a freelance business. I swore to myself I wouldn’t experience another month without a single incoming cent. Today, almost one year later, I can say that I have not. This is what I have learned and what you can do to make your creativity pay your bills, with or without getting new client requests every single day:
INCREASE YOUR RATES
Reconsider how much you charge your clients. As a creative entrepreneur, only half of your time are billable hours. You cannot just work “in” your business, but you must also work “on” your business. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to plan for the future, go to industry events, do all of your admin, and even clean your own work space.
OFFER YOUR BEST CLIENTS RETAINER WORK
If you find people you love working with, chances are high that they share your sympathy. Think of ways to help them out regularly. Think of how many hours you’d like to spend working with them and offer them a lower, retainer rate and a contingent of hours you can work on their projects each month. You’ll get a regular paycheck and they’ll work with someone they trust.
USE ALL OF YOUR SKILLS
Whether your main focus is service or product-oriented, try to think of different ways to apply your skills. If you are a service-oriented business, think of products you could create and scale. Whether it’s books, online tutorials, or podcasts, try to think of something you could make and scale. There might even be third party services, such as CreateSpace, EyeEm, Audible, Creative Market, etc., that can help you handle all the logistics, giving you more time to focus on what you enjoy the most. On the other hand, if your main focus is to create and sell products, think of services you could offer. Find ways to generate royalties or teach people techniques and skills. People can learn about anything online, so it’s better to see your name attached to the skills you have mastered.
WORK ON A SIDE PROJECT
Use at least 10% (!) of your time for personal projects. Create something that you want people to associate with your name. Whenever you talk about your work, you mostly talk about what you’ve done in the past. Having a side project enables you to talk about what you want to do next and what you want people to know you for. Side projects are also a great way to shift your focus, attract new types of clients, or land new kinds of assignments.
MAKE USE OF YOUR SURPLUS WORK
Be resourceful with the creative work you produce. If your client doesn’t like all options you suggest to them, think about who else could make use of your creations. If you have created something others might find useful, find a platform to sell your work as stock. When working on my second book, I interviewed Maaike Boot, a surface pattern designer who explained to me that whenever she works with a client, she presents three options to them. However, to get to these three options, she probably created ten options, so the other nine options the client doesn’t pay for are usually good enough for her to upload to her online portfolio on Shutterstock, a portfolio that she simultaneously monetizes. Smart chick, don’t you think?
LEARN TO CREATE OUT LOUD
Whenever you produce new work, let people know. Practice to share your process and not just your final outcome. Use social media to regularly remind people of your existence and share your personal style with the people curious enough to follow your journey. Don’t be hesitant to show off what you’re capable of because even though there are copycats out there, if you have a unique style, you’ll always be at least three steps ahead of everyone else. More and more clients prefer to work with people who have an online influence and a specific demographic that follows them. Should your following grow significantly, you can even monetize your social influence.
EXPLORE ALL OPTIONS
Whatever it is you produce, there are probably more use cases your work is suitable for. Think about authors. They don’t just write books. They tell stories. But of course, not everyone reads. Unfortunately. However, just because not everyone consumes ideas and thoughts in one way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for other ways to reach those you think will appreciate your creations. People who enjoy your stories might enjoy to listen to them or want to dive into what you have to say in another language. Joanna Penn, another creative mind I interviewed for #MCFSB, explained that she creates podcasts, audio books, and tutorials, and she doesn’t stop there. She also gives talks at events and conferences that are based on the content from her books. In other words, it’s not the coffee mug that has your print on it that gets people excited; it’s the print that’s on the coffee mug. It’s your style that delights people you should build upon.
FIND YOURSELF STRONG PARTNERS
Building up a side income with royalties is not a quick win. Whenever you decide to license your work, you’ll only receive a small percentage of the retail price. The good news is that good content can be sold multiple times. While at the beginning it might pay for drinks, eventually it might pay for a dinner, and at some point, even become a main source of your income. If you focus, you can scale your income gradually. There are many logistics companies who are happy to take a lot of work off your shoulders. Look for strong partners who can do the parts you don’t enjoy as much. They might take a cut from your earnings, but it’s very likely it will pay off in the long run.
Building scalable income streams is not something you can do overnight. However, the sooner you start, the faster you’ll be comfortable when no one calls to book your services. You’ll also feel far more relaxed the next time you go on a vacation without bringing your laptop along. It’s only January! Make this year a different one. Be a bit more strategic about what you do with your time. Should you be on the lookout for more inspiration, check out my little side project that I’ve been working on the past couple of months. Remember, it’s about working smarter, not harder.
Take an exclusive look at Monika's upcoming book, My Creative (Side) Business.
Monika Kanokova is a freelance community strategist and the author of This Year Will Be Different: The Insightful Guide to Becoming a Freelancer. Her heart belongs to good design and delicious filter coffee. If yours does too, follow her discoveries on @kathmo or visit mkanokova.com to learn more about her approach to community and product strategy.